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Coast Guard: Leak caused cruise ship fire

ATLANTA -- A leak in a fuel oil return line caused the engine-room fire that disabled a Carnival cruise ship at sea, leaving 4,200 people without power or working toilets for five days, a Coast Guard official said yesterday.

Cmdr. Teresa Hatfield addressed the finding in a conference call with reporters and estimated that the investigation of the disabled ship, the Carnival Triumph, would take six months.

Hatfield said the Bahamas, where the ship is registered, or flagged, is leading the investigation, with the Coast Guard and the National Transportation Safety Board representing U.S. interests. The vessel was in international waters at the time.

Since the ship arrived Thursday in Mobile, Ala., she said, passengers and crew have been interviewed and forensic analysis has been performed on the ship.

She said the crew responded appropriately. "They did a very good job," she said.

In an email later, Coast Guard spokesman Carlos Diaz described the oil return line that leaked as stretching from the ship's No. 6 engine to the fuel tank.

Andrew Coggins, a former Navy commander who is now a professor at Pace University in Manhattan and an expert on the cruise industry, said the fire could potentially have been serious.

"The problem is the oil's under pressure," he said. "What happens in the case of a fuel oil leak . . . is it leaks in such a way that it sprays out in a mist. In the engine room you have many hot surfaces, so once the mist hits a hot surface it will flash into flame."

Engine room fires that can't be suppressed generally result in the loss of the entire ship, he said.

The Triumph left Galveston, Texas, on Feb. 7 for a four-day trip to Mexico. The fire paralyzed the ship early Feb. 10, leaving it adrift in the Gulf of Mexico until tugboats towed it to Mobile. -- AP

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